Anusara Yoga Origins, Methodology, and Scandal

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Anusara, which means "flowing with grace," was founded in 1997 by American yogi John Friend and quickly grew into a respected yoga empire with a large following in the United States, Europe, and Asia. Anusara's upward momentum came to an abrupt halt, however, in 2012 when Friend resigned his leadership in the wake of a scandal.

The Rise of Anusara 1997-2012

John Friend was a senior-level Iyengar yoga teacher before leaving the fold to pursue his own yoga method, which explains his ongoing concern with the importance of alignment. The heart of Anusara Yoga and what sets it apart from other styles is what Friend called the Universal Principles of Alignment, a unique way of teaching yoga poses that emphasizes core stability and spinal mobility within a vinyasa-style practice.

Anusara is a complete yoga system that includes its own philosophy, derived from Tantra, that teaches that all beings are inherently good. With its charismatic leader, rigorous initiation process (teacher-trainings were expensive and took years), and specialized vocabulary, Anusara carved out its own niche, becoming very influential in contemporary yoga throughout the first decade of the 21st century as Friend's singular approach to alignment and mystical rhetoric found purchase at a time that coincided with surge in yoga's popularity.

The Fall of John Friend

Anusara was rapidly expanding, with an expansive new headquarters planned in Encinitas, California, when accusations of personal and professional impropriety by John Friend threw the organization into turmoil. A post on an anonymous website in February 2012, alleged that Friend had illegally suspended his employees' pension funds in order to pay for the new Anusara Center, used drugs, and led a Wiccan coven in which sexual rites were encouraged. Friend soon admitted to having inappropriate sexual relationships with female students and employees. He then announced that he would take a hiatus from teaching in order to evaluate his personal life and restructure the management of Anusara Yoga.

As more details emerged about Friend's deviations from the moral code he had espoused and his apparent lack of contrition, many prominent Anusara teachers resigned their affiliations as their students became disillusioned with the teacher they had formerly revered. In the fall of 2012, Friend returned to teaching with a series of workshops introducing a new yoga system called Sridaiva. At about the same time, a group of senior Anusara teachers announced the formation, with Friend's blessing, of the Anusara School of Hatha Yoga, which continues to certify teachers and teach in the original Anusara style.

Anusara 2012 - Present

Anusara's presence and influence are much diminished since John Friend's departure. The majority of Anusara's best-known teachers quickly eschewed their affiliations with the organization in the wake of the 2012 accusations. Those most dedicated to Friend shifted their loyalty to his new project, Sridaiva, which has its own alignment system and is building a following that is not dissimilar from the early days of Anusara. However, a dedicated group of senior teachers has kept the Anusara boat afloat. Even as their faith in the style's founder was shaken, they remained convinced the validity and superiority of the Anusara method and have continued to teach it. Therefore, it's still possible to find quality Anusara classes though they are much less available than they were before the upheaval.

What to Expect If You Take an Anusara Class

  • Classes that are often lighthearted, positive, and fun.
  • You'll find much vinyasa flow and a lot of alignment work.
  • Classes make use of props, so they're accessible to students of differing abilities.
  • Anusara has its own vocabulary, but teachers are trained to explain the Universal Principals of Alignment in lay terms.
  • Anusara appeals to those who want to work both their physical and spiritual well-being.

By Ann Pizer, RYT
Ann Pizer is a writer and registered yoga instructor who teaches vinyasa/flow and prenatal yoga classes.